The Classic: Homemade Macaroni & Cheese
I hear there is quite the blizzard back home in Connecticut and the entire band of New England states for that matter. Come to think of it I didn’t quite “hear” about it as that verb may come with passive connotations. Frankly, I have been buried knee deep in the stuff, in meteorology. In 2015, one cannot dodge the flurry of social media posts, the waiting room t.v.’s, or notifications from our smart phone apps. I vote the best coverage so far has got to be CNN’s of the “hurricane of snow” because the anchor did “not know exactly what a blizzard is!” except that it is “crippling” the states. A “lockdown” is in effect back home. Sounds serious.
I always find weather segments grating and more-or-less annoying. It is the combination of words that just get under my skin; “crippling” winds, a strong “barreling” down, the town “rocked” by gusts, or my favorite.. the hurricane strength no longer a category but a “KAT” + number. ::Rolls eyes:: “Kat”: now officially part of our English vernacular. All this is fine and swell for the middle-aged Normas and Johns of The States, nesting among their 10 bottles of Poland Spring and the remote waiting for The Winter Rapture. But it’s not really my cup of Joe.
Ah, “go easy, Adam!” you may groan. “He’s terrible! A fright!” Maybe slightly but until I have clarification between the atmospheric difference of “partly cloudy” and “mostly sunny”, give me a little venting space, will ya?
But in all honesty, I hope everyone back home and all New Englanders are safe. In fact, I will say that I am even a bit jealous that I am not snowbound as well with a book, with my family, my dog, and near a warm kitchen; pulling out a casserole with my olive-green oven mitts with the efflorescent snow just outside our windows now fleecing the window screens, casting the room into a deep blue hue.
Thinking about home with the blizzard today, what better way than to spend this day of comfort with the ultimate in comfort food? Macaroni & Cheese. Hands-down the most homey, warming, and delicious dish that can retrieve just about anyone out from a spell of winter gloom. I just prepared and served my homemade Mac & Cheese dish here in Prague, inspired by my Mom’s recipe back home. As a boy, it always seemed like such an occasion when we had her mac & cheese. One of my sisters and I would fight over the breadcrumbs, that texture that every homemade mac & cheese absolutely must have. It was a Sunday 6 p.m. go-to from her playbook, always taking 1 hour to bake, 10 minutes to cool. It is “simple”, she used to (and still says to this day), I never thought so until lately but she is right. Rule 1: just because it tastes just so darn good does not mean it has to be complicated. Rule 2: never mess or substitute with comfort food ingredients. Go with what you know. Go with your memories.
“Baby, it’s cold outside” but it sure is hotter-than-Hades in my kitchen. Let’s get to work together on this classic dish, shall we?
Stay warm, New England! Oh, and while yours is baking away, can someone go help my dad snowblow our driveway?
Homemade Macaroni & Cheese
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- 1 bag/pound of pipe rigate pasta (or similar)
- 2 1/2 - 3 cups warm milk or half & half (or a blend of the two)
- 3 1/2 tbsp butter
- 4 1/2 tbsp flour
- 3 cups shredded cheese; 2 or 3 cheese blend (e.g. Sharp Cheddar, Colby, Emmental, Gruyere, Gloucester, or others)
- 3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3 drops cayenne or pepper sauce (e.g. Tabasco)
- A speck of ground nutmeg
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter
- Freshly-cracked pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C, arrange oven rack in the middle
- Butter your baking dish with 1 tbsp butter
- Bring salted water to a boil and add pasta, stirring every 3-4 minutes
- Cook until aldente* and drain. Shock the cooking process by running cold water over the pasta and toss for 2 minutes (Note: do not cook your pasta all the way through, it will continue to cook in the oven and you may risk it being mush!)
- Set aside to cool
- In a large saucepan, melt 3 1/2 tbsp butter and add flour, whisking until the roux bubbles. Remove from heat
- Add warm milk and whisk until the sauce thickens. Return to burner if necessary
- Add the cheese and whisk until the cheese melts; alternating between the burner and off heat
- Add the pepper sauce/cayenne, 1 tbsp salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Taste and correct seasoning
- In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter then add breadcrumbs until the butter is absorbed. Add salt and pepper for flavoring
- Add a thin layer of sauce to the bottom of the baking dish and add 1/4 of the pasta
- Repeat and alternate layers of pasta/sauce until you have filled your dish
- Cover the entire macaroni & cheese with the breadcrumbs; spreading generously
- Bake in the oven for 50 - 60 minutes until the cheese sauce begins to bubble and your breadcrumbs have browned
- Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before serving
- Serve with a green salad, vegetables, and a fresh baguette
The Bell Kitchen http://thebellkitchen.com/